Let’s all go on a U.S. Tour… English clubs set to invade, again, this summer

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Soccer fans in North America either love or hate this time of year. Major League Soccer is in full swing and the US national team are often qualifying or competing for something.

But then around July, all hell breaks lose as a plethora of teams from England and Europe descend on the US to play friendly tournaments galore. MLS teams suddenly see all their free time clogged up by scrimmages in packed out stadiums, as ‘friendlies’ all of a sudden become more important than league games.

In some cases anyway. (Ahem, Seattle against Chelsea and Manchester United…)

And this summer will be no different, with six English teams touring the US starting at various dates and locations. The EPL outfits will be using the beautiful summer climate and top notch facilities as their preseason base, away from the hustle and bustle of Great Britain’s blustery soccer-obsessed shores.

These are the English sides currently penciled in to tour the US: Chelsea, Everton, Stoke City, Wigan Athletic, Manchester City and Norwich City. And maybe there will be more with hastily arranged preseason plans. Who knows. But come on over.

Wow. Simply put, there are plenty of chances to see some of England’s finest teams this summer. And don’t forget Chelsea and Manchester City have already played two games in the US, the week after the EPL season finished in May. They love a jaunt over the Atlantic. And other top teams from Europe will be joining the English invasion of North America, as the Guinness International Champions Cup takes place.

So will this trend continue to get bigger over the coming years? Some teams may start to mix it up but many have argued that North America provides so many pluses for preseason preparation that it is hard to turn down.

(MORE: Norwich city become fourth EPL side to announce U.S. tour)

Stoke City have plenty of links in America and the deals for Brek Shea and Geoff Cameron both included stipulations that Stoke must play a preseason friendly against FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo. Proving just how lucrative these games are to MLS franchises.

But do the friendlies harm MLS teams who don’t rest enough during the strain of playing multiple games a week, in the heat of summer?

Of course squad players are rotated around. But after Seattle were hammered 7-0 by Manchester United a few years back in a ‘friendly’ they aimed to put on more of an effort when Chelsea rolled into town. They lost 4-2 but gave the English giants a run for their money.

(MORE: Real Madrid, Chelsea, AC Milan, Everton and more heading to U.S. this summer)

The argument of should MLS teams value these friendlies more, always pops up. As many believe beating EPL opposition sends out a message to the rest of the world that Major League Soccer is improving.

But I say, ‘So what?’ It is only a friendly and the English sides are only in preseason. The result doesn’t matter. But the fact that English sides keep coming back definitely helps soccer continue to rise in the US.

So form an orderly queue, or come over on tour all at once. Either way, a summer full of MLS, Gold Cup and EPL friendlies suits me, and US soccer, down to the ground.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia